Saturday, January 23, 2016

SciPub: The Mutation Theory

Publication: The Mutation Theory
Date: 1901
Author: Hugo de Vries
Nationality: Dutch
Why is it important? - Although de Vries' original mutation theory soon lost support, he is credited with having rediscovered Mendel's work on inheritance.

In the early twentieth century the rediscovery of Gregor Mendel's work with pea plants created a hotbed of activity surrounding genes, evolution, and inherited traits. The theory of evolution was rapidly advancing, not least thanks to the contributions of a Dutch botanist named Hugo de Vries.

Hugo de Vries
De Vries' book The Mutation Theory suggested that new species could arise spontaneously. He had observed that new characteristics could appear within the space of a generation and he pinned the blame on mutations. De Vries began developing his theory during a succession of plant breeding experiments with evening primrose. He noticed that new varieties of the plant would occasionally occur, as if from nowhere, and he believed that these were the results of changes within particles that could be passed on from one generation to the next - what we now would call genetic material. He came to expect these new varieties to prosper - if the changes were favorable in terms of the plant's survival and procreation - and to remain until further mutations occurred.

The Dutchman's work seemed to contradict that of Darwin's theory of evolution and gained him support from anti-Darwin campaigners. However, the new plant varieties he observed turned out to be caused not by mutations, but by the rearrangement of DNA within an individual plant's reproductive cells. It is now accepted that mutations do indeed contribute to evolution, but the reality is a gradual selection of these mutations over many generations.

Source: Defining moments in Science p.23

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Language, Lingua, Wika, Lingvo

During my one year hiatus in writing, I became busy with work and family. But I also became interested in something else, something I think is difficult for one to master quickly - learning a language. For sometime now I was interested in studying Spanish because of my immense interest about Spain and its culture, since somehow my country's culture was a mix of native, Asian, and European (mainly Spanish) culture. Also it would be an economic advantage if I know how to speak the language.

But learning it proved difficult. For one, I am not quite familiar then with certain rules or structure of a language. I do know verbs, adjectives, subject and predicate, numerals, and other basic structure, but still, learning it proved very difficult. I've purchased a few books, including grammar books and dictionaries but I just don't get it.

I learned my first language - Tagalog since birth and English at school, English took a while before I became comfortable in using it, I would definitely give a toast to my English teacher in 2nd year high school for letting me join those Spelling bees. It really helped develop my vocabulary.

My third language - Ilocano (lingua franca of the Northern Philippines) came very late in life. We migrated there when I was 14 and the downside of it is this, when you speak Tagalog at home and your teachers know that you are a migrant from another region, they will speak to you in Tagalog too. Not good if you want to learn the culture and the language. Besides I don't have at that time a conscious awareness that you want to learn, or maybe I was just too lazy to learn it. So it took me until after college to speak JUST THE BASICS of the language.

During my hiatus in writing, I got a message from an old friend. He wanted me to translate into Ilocano a simple article. It is about a language called Esperanto. I read that article and it describes what the language is all about. I got intrigued and once we met he recommended that I study Esperanto to get a feel on language learning. Turns out, he already know the language for two years. Anyway, eight months later, I am now able to communicate using basic words and learned how to create sentences using that language.

Basic facts about Esperanto

Esperanto is an international language, created to facilitate communication amongst people from different countries. In practical use for more than a hundred years, Esperanto has proved to be a genuinely living language, capable of expressing all facets of human thought. -Axel Belinfante

Esperanto was created in 1887 by Dr. L. L. Zamenhof to be a second language that would allow people who speak different native languages to communicate, yet at the same time to retain their own languages and cultural identities. Zamenhof grew up in Bialystok, Poland, where different peoples were not separated by a geographical barrier, but a cultural and language barrier. While he realized that a common language would not end the cultural barrier, it would enable ordinary people, not politicians, to have cross national conversations. To this end, he created Esperanto, a language that would be easy for most people to learn, due to it's logical, regular design.

Other facts can be found here.

Language facts:

-There are between 6000 and 7000 languages in the world - spoken by 7 billion people divided into 189 independent states.

-There are about 225 indigenous languages in Europe - roughly 3% of the world’s total.

-Most of the world’s languages are spoken in Asia and Africa.

-At least half of the world’s population are bilingual or plurilingual, i.e. they speak two or more languages.

-In their daily lives, Europeans increasingly come across foreign languages. There is a need to generate a greater interest in languages among European citizens.

-Many languages have 50.000 words or more, but individual speakers normally know and use only a fraction of the total vocabulary: in everyday conversation people use the same few hundred words.

-Languages are constantly in contact with each other and affect each other in many ways: English borrowed words and expressions from many other languages in the past, European languages are now borrowing many words from English.

-In its first year, a baby utters a wide range of vocal sounds; at around one year, the first understandable words are uttered; at around three years, complex sentences are formed; at five years, a child possesses several thousand words.

-The mother tongue is usually the language one knows best and uses most. But there can be 'perfect bilinguals' who speak two languages equally well. Normally, however, bilinguals display no perfect balance between their two languages.

-Bilingualism brings with it many benefits: it makes the learning of additional languages easier, enhances the thinking process and fosters contacts with other people and their cultures.

-Bilingualism and plurilingualism entail economic advantages, too: jobs are more easily available to those who speak several languages, and multilingual companies have a better competitive edge than monolingual ones.

-Languages are related to each other like the members of a family. Most European languages belong to the large Indo-European family.

-Most European languages belong to three broad groups: Germanic, Romance and Slavic.

-The Germanic family of languages includes Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, German, Dutch, English and Yiddish, among others.

-The Romance languages include Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian, among others.

-The Slavic languages include Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Slovenian, Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian, Bulgarian and others.

-Most European languages use the Latin alphabet. Some Slavic languages use the Cyrillic alphabet. Greek, Armenian, Georgian and Yiddish have their own alphabet.

-Most countries in Europe have a number of regional or minority languages – some of these have obtained official status.

-The non-European languages most widely used on European territory are Arabic, Chinese and Hindi, each with its own writing system.

-Russia (148 million inhabitants) has by far the highest number of languages spoken on its territory: from 130 to 200 depending on the criteria.

-Due to the influx of migrants and refugees, Europe has become largely multilingual. In London alone some 300 languages are spoken (Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish, Berber, Hindi, Punjabi, etc.).

Here are more fun facts:

-There are 50,000 characters in the Chinese language.
You’ll need to know about 2,000 to read a newspaper.

-12.44% of the world’s population speaks Mandarin as their first language.

-There are about 2,200 languages in Asia.

-1/4 of the world’s population speaks at least some English.Learning another language is important

-50% of educational time in Luxembourg devoted to learning English, German, and French.

-There are 13 ways to spell the ‘o’ sound in French.

-There is a language in Botswana that consists of mainly 5 types of clicks.

-There are 2,400 languages classified as being ‘endangered’.

-231 languages are now completely extinct.

-One language dies about every 14 days.

-Eastern Siberia, Northwest Pacific Plateau of North America, And Northern Australia are hotspots for endangered languages.

-There are 12 imaginary languages in Lord of The Rings.

-Esperanto is an artificial language, but is spoken by about 500,000 to 2,000,000 people, and 2 feature films have been done in the language.

-There are 24 working languages of the EU.

-There are 6 official UN languages.

-The bible is available in 2454 languages.

-The oldest written language was believed to be written in about 4500 BC.

-South Africa has 11 official languages – the most for a single country.

-The pope tweets in 9 languages.

-The US has no official language.

-You can us an ATM in Latin in Vatican City.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Welcoming me back!

It has been more than a year since I stopped writing on this blog. Many things happened along the way, and now I think it is time to write a few more. Write the things in Science that I like, that I can grasp. Links and videos from other sources to share with you. One year of not writing here would not stop me to write more and share more.

First stop for this year, what is it like to speak after you inhaled helium? Very funny!

And how about inhaling Sodium Hexaflouride? Check this out!

This would be my very first post for the year. I will plan do make at least a few more. Never ever stop loving the wonders of Science.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Popular Science: A Quick Guide

If you are a science buff or a scientist or somebody with a passion for science, you will say a resounding "yes" for that question. After all, most of what we are right now is because of science and the technology brought up by the scientific enterprise. Most of the things you use and apply in the real world is tied to a scientific principle or two.

But is Popular Science important in our everyday life? When I say "everyday life", that means from the time you wake up till the time you sleep. That is an interesting question, considering that most of the earth's inhabitants are not scientifically literate. In western nations, there is a trend in the rising "decline" of science literacy among its populace. So is the rest of the world. Maybe in terms of the number of scientists and engineers, the west is lagging behind Asia, but that is not what's important here. What is important is that we have a possible problem here and that is the problem with the world becoming too scientifically illiterate.

What is Science literacy? What is Popular science? We need to know these terminologies first before we can actually tackle the importance Popular science gives us in reshaping peoples views about science and technology and its various principles.

First we have the word "literacy:.
*The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines literacy as the "ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society".

And now we have Scientific Literacy:
** According to the United States National Center for Education Statistics, "scientific literacy is the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity". A scientifically literate person is defined as one who has the capacity to:

- understand experiment and reasoning as well as basic scientific facts and their meaning
- ask, find, or determine answers to questions derived from curiosity about everyday experiences
- describe, explain, and predict natural phenomena
- read with understanding articles about science in the popular press and to engage in social conversation about the validity of the conclusions
- identify scientific issues underlying national and local decisions and express positions that are scientifically and technologically informed
- evaluate the quality of scientific information on the basis of its source and the methods used to generate it
- pose and evaluate arguments based on evidence and to apply conclusions from such arguments appropriately

You do not need to be a very smart person to be scientifically literate. In fact, most of the information that you learned in Science classes during your youth are still very valuable even a decade or two after your education. And more information is being presented and showed to us through Popular Science.

Popular Science is intended for the general audience. It is science, without the complexity and being shown to the public as simply as it can. As Wikipedia states:

Popular science is a bridge between scientific literature as a professional medium of scientific research, and the realms of popular political and cultural discourse. The goal of the genre is often to capture the methods and accuracy of science, while making the language more accessible.

I think the role of popular science in today's world is to make sure that scientific news, discoveries, and breakthroughs will be shown, explained, and appreciated by the masses. By using all the different mediums possible, we can spread awareness of scientific literacy to the general public. This is a very good tool, in which we can actually make an impact to people.

Even though there is a lukewarm reception to science themed programs on the air and on cyberspace, we, who are responsible Scientifically literate citizens, has a mission, to spread awareness and appreciation of science and technology, appreciate the beauty of this planet and of the cosmos as a whole.

Well Known English Popularizers of Science:

***In alphabetical order by last name:

John Acorn, naturalist and broadcaster known as the "Nature Nut"
Amir Aczel, author and mathematician
Maggie Aderin-Pocock, space scientist and broadcaster
Hashem AL-ghaili, biotechnologist
Jim Al-Khalili, theoretical physicist, author and science communicator
Alan Alda, actor
Michael Allaby, writes on science, ecology and weather

Elise Andrew, British blogger, founder and maintainer of the Facebook page "I Fucking Love Science"

Natalie Angier, science journalist and writer
Isaac Asimov, biochemist, science fiction writer and author
Peter Atkins, physical chemist and author
David Attenborough, naturalist and broadcaster


Francis Bacon, English philosopher, statesman, scientist, jurist, & author
Johnny Ball, broadcaster and math popularizer
John D. Barrow, mathematician, theoretical physicist, and cosmologist; author of numerous journal articles, and books for general readers
Marcia Bartusiak, science journalist and author
David Bellamy, broadcaster, author, and botanist
Bob Berman, astronomer
Adrian Berry, science author and columnist
Howard Bloom, author
David Bodanis, author
Liz Bonnin, biochemist and TV presenter
Daniel J. Boorstin, author and Librarian of Congress
Sir David Brewster, Scottish scientist
John Brockman, specializing authorship in scientific literature
Jacob Bronowski, mathematician, biologist, historian of science, author and pioneering science broadcaster
Bill Bryson, author
Rob Buckman, doctor of medicine, broadcaster, columnist, author
James Burke, broadcaster, television producer, and author; best known for the science historian BBC TV series Connections
Nigel Calder, broadcaster and journalist
Fritjof Capra, physicist and author
Sean Carroll, cosmologist, blogger, and author
Rachel Carson, marine biologist, conservationist, author
Marcus Chown, author and science journalist
Arthur C. Clarke, science fiction author, inventor, and futurist
Brian Clegg, author
Jack Cohen, reproductive biologist
Heather Couper, astronomer, broadcaster and author
Brian Cox, broadcaster, musician and physicist
Francis Crick, molecular biologist, biophysicist, and neuroscientist; joint discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule
Paul Davies, physicist, author and broadcaster
Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and author
Michael DeBakey, world-renowned cardiac surgeon, innovator, and author
Daniel Dennett, philosopher, cognitive scientist and author
Alexander Dewdney, mathematician, computer scientist and philosopher
Jared Diamond, evolutionary biologist, physiologist and geographer
Robin Dunbar, anthropology; evolutionary psychology, culture and language; and specialist in primate behaviour
Marcus Du Sautoy, author, broadcaster, Professor of Mathematics
David Eagleman, neuroscientist and author
Sir Arthur Eddington, astrophysicist
Gerald Edelman, from the immune system, analogously, to brain & mind
Loren Eiseley, Professor of Anthropology and History of Science
Peter Fairley, journalist and broadcaster
Michael Faraday, scientist and lecturer
Kenneth Feder, archaeologist, skeptic, lecturer, and author
Timothy Ferris, science writer and best-selling author of twelve books
Richard Feynman, physicist and author
Brian J. Ford, biologist, lecturer and author
Morgan Freeman, actor, host of popular science series Through the Wormhole
George Gamow, physicist, cosmologist and author
Martin Gardner, mathematician, author, skeptic & polymath extraordinaire
Atul Gawande, surgeon and author
Malcolm Gladwell, journalist and author
James Gleick, author and journalist
Ben Goldacre, medical doctor, psychiatrist and author
Stephen Jay Gould, paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and science historian; author of numerous essays, articles, and books
Steve Grand, computer scientist and roboticist


Brian Greene, physicist
Susan Greenfield, brain physiologist, writer and broadcaster
Richard Gregory, neuropsychologist, author and editor of several books
John Gribbin, astronomer and author
Heinz Haber, physicist and author
Thomas Hager, author and science journalist
J. B. S. Haldane, biologist and author
Bas Haring, philosopher and author
Sam Harris, neuroscientist and author
Lucy Hawking, journalist and daughter of Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist and author
Don Herbert, a.k.a. Mr. Wizard, broadcaster
Christopher Hitchens, author, journalist and essayist
Roald Hoffmann, chemist
Douglas Hofstadter, computer scientist, cognitive scientist and author
Lancelot Hogben, experimental zoologist and medical statistician, with many popularising books on science, mathematics and language
Julian Huxley, eminent scientist, author, and first Director of UNESCO
Jamie Hyneman, special effects artist and TV personality (MythBusters)
Jay Ingram, broadcaster and author (Daily Planet)
Steve Irwin, wildlife expert and conservationist; TV personality of the worldwide-fame wildlife documentary TV series (The Crocodile Hunter)
Ray Jayawardhana, astrophysicist and author
Steven Johnson, author
Steve Jones, evolutionary biologist and author
Horace Freeland Judson, historian of molecular biology and author
Olivia Judson, evolutionary biologist, broadcaster and author
Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist and author
Lawrence Krauss, physicist and author
Robert Krulwich, broadcaster
Karl Kruszelnicki, a.k.a. Dr Karl, broadcaster
Richard Leakey, Kenyan paleoanthropologist and conservationist
John Lennox, mathematician and author
Daniel Levitin, cognitive neuroscientist and author
Roger Lewin, British anthropologist
Richard Lewontin, evolutionary biologist, geneticist and author
Chris Lintott, astrophysicist
Bob McDonald, CBC journalist and host of Quirks and Quarks
Alister McGrath, molecular biologist and author
Lynn Margulis, evolutionary biologist and author
Robert Matthews, physicist, mathematician, computer scientist, and distinguished science journalist
Peter Medawar, biologist, called by Richard Dawkins "the wittiest of all scientific writers"[4] and by New Scientist "perhaps the best science writer of his generation".[5]
Fulvio Melia, physicist, astrophysicist and author
Julius Sumner Miller, physicist and broadcaster
Mark Miodownik, materials scientist, engineer, broadcaster and writer
Ashley Montagu, anthropologist and humanist, authored by over 60 books
Sir Patrick Moore, amateur astronomer and broadcaster

Desmond Morris, zoologist, ethologist and author
Philip Morrison, physicist, known for his numerous books & TV programs
Randall Munroe, writer of What if blog
PZ Myers, professor and author of the science blog Pharyngula[6]
Yoshiro Nakamatsu, Japanese inventor
Jayant Narlikar, cosmologist and author
Steven Novella, skeptic and advocate of science-based medicine
Bill Nye, broadcaster and mechanical engineer, called the Science Guy
Tor Nørretranders, author
Sten Odenwald, astronomer, author, lecturer
Robert Olby, author and historian of science
Chad Orzel, physicist and author
Linus Pauling, one of the most influential chemists in history and ranks among the most important scientists of the 20th century
John Allen Paulos, mathematician and author
Fred Pearce, journalist at New Scientist
Yakov I. Perelman, author
Steven Pinker, experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist and author
Phil Plait, astronomer and skeptic who runs the Bad Astronomy website
Martyn Poliakoff, British chemist, featured in the YouTube The Periodic Table of Videos series
John Polkinghorne, physicist and author
Robert Pollack, biologist and author
Carolyn Porco, leader of Cassini Imaging Team
Roy Porter, prolific work on the history of medicine
Christopher Potter, publisher, philosopher and author
Magnus Pyke, food scientist, broadcaster and author
V. S. Ramachandran, neuroscientist, cognitive scientist and author
James Randi, stage magician, skeptic and author
Lisa Randall, theoretical physicist and author
Mark Ridley, zoologist, evolutionary scientist and author
Matt Ridley, zoologist, journalist and author
Alice Roberts, anatomist, anthropologist, television presenter and author
Steven Rose, biologist, neurobiologist, broadcaster and author
Oliver Sacks, neurologist and author
Carl Sagan, astrobiologist, astronomer, broadcaster and author
Kirsten Sanford, neurophysiologist and broadcaster
Adam Savage, special effects artist and TV personality (MythBusters)
Eric Scerri, chemist, historian and philosopher of science, and author
Seth Shostak, astronomer, broadcaster and author
Neil Shubin, paleontologist, evolutionary biologist
George Gaylord Simpson, paleontologist, zoologist and author
Simon Singh, physicist, mathematician and author
Edwin Emery Slosson, chemist, journalist and editor
Iain Stewart, geologist and broadcaster
Ian Stewart, mathematician and author
David Suzuki, broadcaster, geneticist and environmental activist
Lewis Thomas, physician, poet, etymologist, and essayist
Chriet Titulaer, Dutch astronomer, author and broadcaster
Colin Tudge, biologist and author
Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and author
Kevin Warwick, biomedical scientist, roboticist and author
Michael White, musician and science writer
Norbert Wiener, mathematician, author; the father of cybernetics
Robert Winston, medical doctor, scientist, TV presenter and author
Richard Wiseman, psychologist and author
Stephen Wolfram, mathematics, theoretical physics, scientific computing
Lewis Wolpert, developmental biologist, author and broadcaster
Peter Wothers, chemist and author
Carl Zimmer, science writer and author of the science blog The Loom[7]
Marlene Zuk, evolutionary biologist and behaviorial ecologist

There are many different sources of Popular Science shows, articles, and websites:

Of course we have the usual channels National Geographic, Science, and Discovery Channels. If I missed something please comment below!

15 most popular science websites:

50 popular science blogs:

100 science blogs every student should subscribe to:

Partial list on Wikipedia:

Partial list from Guardian:

10 Youtube channels that will make you smarter:

100 most subscribed Science-Tech channels on Youtube

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Alchemy to Chemistry: A Brief History

It is said that the foundations in which Modern Science was built lies on ignorance. Before one can discover the truth of certain processes and principles, one needs to start from scratch in terms of finding that truth. And one of the best examples of that search lies in the foundations of Modern Chemistry - Alchemy.

It was called Alchemy back in the old days. For Western Civilization it was the search for processes that would turn any substance into Gold. For the East, it was the search for more potent medicines. Nobody knows where Alchemy was started, but it was said it all started in Greece. But the fact that it too started in China at about the same time as the ancient Greeks, with a very different purpose.

After the ancient Greeks and Chinese started their quests for gold and immortality, it was the Arabs in the 8th century CE, backed by their mightly Caliphs and Sultans, that took the next challenge. Strategically located between the east and west, their practitioners mixed the Chinese notion of medicinal benefit, while also putting emphasis in the concept of the "philosopher's stone".

Alchemy in the Arab World

Wikipedia perfectly states what a Philosopher's stone would be:

The philosophers' stone or stone of the philosophers (Latin: lapis philosophorum) is a legendary alchemical substance said to be capable of turning base metals such as lead into gold (chrysopoeia) or silver. It was also sometimes believed to be an elixir of life, useful for rejuvenation and possibly for achieving immortality. For many centuries, it was the most sought-after goal in alchemy. The philosophers' stone was the central symbol of the mystical terminology of alchemy, symbolizing perfection at its finest, enlightenment, and heavenly bliss. Efforts to discover the philosophers' stone were known as the Magnum Opus ("Great Work")

Alchemy on its own is an impossible quest. Turning substances into Gold and giving the person immortal powers that cheats death, is somewhat unlikely. But it gave its practitioners - the Alchemists, so much time to think of ways to beat the challenge. They invented different processes, created step by step procedures, organized substances, named and discovered new chemicals either by accident or by experimentation, polished and blasted different glassware and other materials for its use. Therefore, it is safe to say that Alchemy laid the foundations of Modern Chemistry. 

Different Apparatuses used in Alchemy

Partial list of Alchemists throughout history:

Zosimos of Panopolis (300 CE) - Greek alchemist and Gnostic mystic. He wrote the oldest known books on alchemy.

Elder Zhang Guo - Chinese historical figure. A Taoist fangshi (occultist-alchemist). Also a Qigong master.

Jābir ibn Hayyān - (721-815 CE) -  a prominent Muslim polymath: a chemist and alchemist, astronomer and astrologer, engineer, geographer, philosopher, physicist, and pharmacist and physician. Paved the way for later Arab alchemists and is regarded with awe.

Albertus Magnus (1193-1280 CE) - A Catholic Saint, German Dominican Friar and Bishop. Credited for the discovery of the element Arsenic. Legend suggests that he discovered the Philosopher's stone and passed it on to his pupil Thomas Aquinas. No evidence suggests that took place.

Tycho Brahe (1546-1601 CE) - Danish nobleman known for his accurate and comprehensive astronomical and planetary observations. His interest in alchemy started when he lost his nose and tested different metals for an exact fit.

Isaac Newton
Issac Newton (1642-1727 CE) -  English physicist and mathematician (described in his own day as a "natural philosopher") who is widely recognised as one of the most influential scientists of all time and as a key figure in the scientific revolution. His book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica ("Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy"), first published in 1687, laid the foundations for classical mechanics. Also a known practitioner of Alchemy, trying to find the Philosopher's stone.

Fulcanelli (late 19th to early 1920's) - name used by a French alchemist and esoteric author, whose identity is still debated. The appeal of Fulcanelli as a cultural phenomenon is due partly to the mystery of most aspects of his life and works; one of the anecdotes pertaining to his life retells, in particular, how his most devoted pupil Eugène Canseliet performed a successful transmutation of 100 grams of lead into gold in a laboratory of the gas works of Sarcelles at the Georgi company with the use of a small quantity of the "Projection Powder" given to him by his teacher, in the presence of Julien Champagne and Gaston Sauvage.

Terence McKenna

Terence Mckenna (1946-2000) - was an American philosopher, psychonaut, ethnobotanist, lecturer, and author. He spoke and wrote about a variety of subjects, including psychedelic drugs, plant-based entheogens, shamanism, metaphysics, alchemy, language, culture, technology and the theoretical origins of human consciousness.



Saturday, February 15, 2014

Love, Science and the Brain

This Valentines season, I would like to talk about a topic that is very intriguing to most but nevertheless essential in our understanding of the human body. This is something that we always do in our everyday lives but rarely thought of how it actually works and why we felt that way. It is an emotion called Love.

We love because we are fond of that person, wants to care for them and are sensitive to their needs and emotions. There are different ways to express love, depending on the type of relationship you have with that person. But, whether they are your parents, siblings, friends, special friends or your special someone, your body reacts with their surroundings and creates a cocktail of chemicals that would translate to love itself. 

As of the moment, two scientific disciplines have so far attempted to explain the processes that leads to the emotion of love. The fields of Evolutionary Psychology and Neurochemistry. 

Evolutionary Phychology*

Evolutionary psychology has proposed several explanations for love. Human infants and children are for a very long time dependent on parental help. Love has therefore been seen as a mechanism to promote mutual parental support of children for an extended time period. Another is that sexually transmitted diseases may cause, among other effects, permanently reduced fertility, injury to the fetus, and increase risks during childbirth. This would favor exclusive long-term relationships reducing the risk of contracting an STD.

From the perspective of evolutionary psychology the experiences and behaviors associated with love can be investigated in terms of how they have been shaped by human evolution. For example, it has been suggested that human language has been selected during evolution as a type of "mating signal" that allows potential mates to judge reproductive fitness. Miller described evolutionary psychology as a starting place for further research: "Cognitive neuroscience could try to localize courtship adaptations in the brain. Most importantly, we need much better observations concerning real-life human courtship, including the measurable aspects of courtship that influence mate choice, the reproductive (or at least sexual) consequences of individual variation in those aspects, and the social-cognitive and emotional mechanisms of falling in love." Since Darwin's time there have been similar speculations about the evolution of human interest in music also as a potential signaling system for attracting and judging the fitness of potential mates. It has been suggested that the human capacity to experience love has been evolved as a signal to potential mates that the partner will be a good parent and be likely to help pass genes to future generations.[5] Biologist Jeremy Griffith defines love as 'unconditional selflessness', suggesting utterly cooperative instincts developed in modern humans' ancestor, Australopithecus. Studies of bonobos (a great ape previously referred to as a pygmy chimpanzee) are frequently cited in support of a cooperative past in humans.

In Neurochemistry

In the United States, Helen Fisher of Rutgers University has proposed 3 stages of love - lust, attraction and attachment. Each stage might be driven by different hormones and chemicals. 

Three Stages of Falling in Love**

Stage 1: Lust

Lust is being driven by the sex hormones testosterone and oestrogen (estrogen). Testosterone is not confined only to men. It has also been shown to play a major role in the sex drive of women. These hormones as Helen Fisher says "get you out looking for anything".

Stage 2: Attraction

This is the real love-struck phase. People think of nothing else when they fall in love. Might lose appetite or have problems sleeping. They sometimes daydream of being together with the person they love. For family relationships, that also translates to tantrums or a "mini"-depression when they don't see their parents often. 

In this stage, several groups of neuro-transmitters called 'monoamines' play an important role:

Dopamine - Also activated by cocaine and nicotine.

Norepinephrine - Otherwise known as adrenalin. Starts us sweating and gets the heart racing.

Serotonin - One of love's most important chemicals and one that may actually send us temporarily insane.
Discover which type of partner you're attracted to by taking our face perception test.

Stage 3: Attachment

If a relationship is going to last, this is the next phase. It is said that people could not possibly stay in the attraction phase forever, otherwise nothing will be ever accomplished.

Attachment is the bond that keeps couples together in a long lasting commitment when they move on to have children. There a two key hormones released by the nervous system, which is currently thought to have a major role in keeping social attachments:

Oxytocin - This is released by the hypothalamus gland during child birth and also helps the breast express milk. It helps cement the strong bond between mother and child. It is also released by both sexes during orgasm and it is thought that it promotes bonding when adults are intimate. The theory goes that the more sex a couple has, the deeper their bond becomes

Vasopressin - Another important chemical in the long-term commitment stage. It is an important controller of the kidney and its role in long-term relationships was discovered when scientists looked at the prairie vole
Find out how the three stages can feel even stronger for teenagers in love, experiencing first love and first sex.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Excerpts on Gamma Radiation

Taken from the book "Defining Moments in Science". Article by Kate Oliver

Key Discovery : 1900

While studying the properties of beta radiation, the French chemist Paul Villard made an intriguing observation. He noticed that in experiments where a beam of beta rays was refracted (passed through a medium of different density), there were often traces of another, unrefracted beam in the results. 

Villard set up another instrument, using the newly discovered element radium as a source. He focused a beam of radiation from the radium through a series of glass plates and a magnetic field, to be recorded finally on photographic film. The unrefracted beam appeared again. It did not seem to respond to any external magnetic or electric fields, and would even show up on the photographic film when it was placed behind 0.2 millimeters of lead.

Villard suggested that the radiation he had found was a new type of more penetrating X-ray. He concluded that the three distinct types of radium beams - easily absorbed rays, a dividable stream of charged electrons, and his new super-penetrating X-rays - were analogous to the three types of radiation emitted by cathode ray tubes. With this observation, Villard correctly generalized radiation into the three types we now know as alpha, beta, and gamma. There was, however, very little interest in his discovery or theory, perhaps because it was outside the current scientific paradigm.

In 1903, Ernest Rutherford, having studied the penetrative power of the beams, named them gamma rays and his term soon fell into common usage. Villard, however, remains pretty much forgotten.*


Gamma Rays is a form of electromagnetic radiation. Of all forms of electromagnetic radiation, they have the shortest wavelengths and the greatest energy. 
It can be produced either as a result of a nuclear reaction or by the annihilation of matter by antimatter. Nuclear reactions that result in the emission of gamma rays include some types of radioactive decay and the fission (splitting) of a nucleus.

Gamma rays are very penetrating; even a thick sheet of a dense material such as lead will not block them entirely. When these pass through matter, they eject electrons from the atoms they strike. This process, called ionization, is harmful to living cells. A living thing exposed to intense or prolonged gamma radiation can become seriously ill and die.

Gamma rays are used in industry to inspect castings and welds. The gamma rays are passed through the object being inspected onto photographic film. The image formed on the film can reveal defects that are invisible to the eye or hidden from direct observation. In medicine, gamma rays are used to destroy certain types of cancer. Cobalt 60 is a substance that is commonly used in hospitals as a source of gamma rays for this purpose.

Artificial satellites have revealed that a variety of astronomical objects, including the sun, clouds of interstellar matter, and remnants of supernovae, are sources of gamma rays. They have also detected strong, random bursts of gamma rays from unknown distant sources.**

Source: *Defining Moments in Science: Over a Century of the Greatest Discoveries, Experiments, Inventions, People, Publications and Events that Rocked the World. Page 14.

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